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Woman holding ice pack on shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a frustrating and often painful condition characterized by lack of mobility in the shoulder joint. When connective tissues surrounding the shoulder joint become damaged, inflamed and thickened, they tighten around the joint and restrict motion.

Common symptoms of frozen shoulder include pain, stiffness, swelling and immobility that often progresses through three stages:

  • Freezing stage: You may begin to notice pain in the shoulder that causes you to limit your movement.
  • Frozen stage: Stiffness in your shoulder persists, but pain has started to lessen.
  • Thawing stage: You will begin to slowly regain motion, and pain continues to improve.
  • Frozen Shoulder Risk Factors

    It is not always known what causes frozen shoulder to develop, but certain individuals are at higher risk of developing the condition. Risk factors include:

    • Age: Frozen shoulder most commonly occurs in adults ages 40 to 60.
    • Shoulder injury: You may be more susceptible to developing frozen shoulder if you recently underwent shoulder surgery, suffered a rotator cuff injury or broke your arm.
    • Diseases and other health conditions: Individuals who have diabetes, certain thyroid conditions, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease or have suffered a stroke may have a higher chance of developing frozen shoulder.

    Diagnosing Frozen Shoulder

    If you experience pain, stiffness and limited mobility in your shoulder, make an appointment with a Penn orthopaedic specialist to determine if you have frozen shoulder.

    To diagnose frozen shoulder, a Penn orthopaedic specialist will evaluate your symptoms and examine your shoulder and arm to assess your range of motion and pain levels.

    You may require further imaging tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis, such as:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound
  • X-ray
  • Musculoskeletal radiologists carefully review imaging to determine the severity of your condition so you can receive the best possible treatment.

    Frozen Shoulder Treatment Options

    Frozen shoulder is typically first treated conservatively. A combination of the following nonsurgical methods often relieve pain and improve mobility:

  • Activity modification
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Corticosteroid injection into the shoulder joint
  • Icing or applying heat to the shoulder joint
  • Range-of-motion exercises/physical therapy
  • Frozen Shoulder Surgery

    If your frozen shoulder does not improve with conservative techniques, surgery may be a good option. Our orthopaedic surgeons treat an extremely high number of patients with frozen shoulder and are experts in the latest surgical techniques. Surgery for frozen shoulder is usually performed on an outpatient basis.

    Surgery for frozen shoulder includes:

    Shoulder Manipulation Under Anesthesia

    Under general anesthesia, your doctor will move your shoulder in different directions, forcing the tight connective tissues to loosen and stretch. The forced manipulation of the shoulder helps to increase range of motion and mobility.

    Shoulder Arthroscopy

    Using minimally invasive techniques, your surgeon will make a small incision in your shoulder. Using a tiny camera attached to a thin tube called an arthroscope, your surgeon will cut through the shoulder capsule and remove scar tissue from the joint (called a capsular release). Removing the tissue allows for range of motion to be regained. Minimally invasive arthroscopic surgical techniques allow for quicker recovery times, less pain and improved outcomes.

    Frozen Shoulder Surgery Recovery

    Physical therapy is a very important part of frozen shoulder surgery recovery that helps maintain the range of motion recovered in surgery. Your doctor will immediately begin working with you on specific exercises you’ll need to perform after your procedure.

    The use of a regional nerve block or indwelling nerve catheter allows for extended pain relief after surgery, making it possible to begin therapy exercises immediately after your procedure.

    Personalized Rehabilitation Programs for Frozen Shoulder Recovery

    Your recovery from frozen shoulder surgery could range from several weeks to several months. Penn physical therapists, orthopaedic specialists and pain management specialists work together to ensure you get the follow-up care you need, for as long as your recovery takes.

    We create personalized rehabilitation plans that restore mobility, prevent further injury and greatly reduce or eliminate pain caused from frozen shoulder. Your doctor will discuss your personal recovery plan and your ongoing goals for treatment.

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